Grounded

In aviation we have a term called AOG that means Aircraft on Ground. It refers to a plane that can’t fly because of a technical issue. We might also say a pilot is grounded because of a disciplinary issue, or that passengers are grounded because of weather. 

In all cases, the term indicates an inability to fly.

We might also use examples in real life. We can say we have been grounded by the pandemic, or personally because of health issues (or because we misbehaved). I could say my current reality has left me grounded here in Hong Kong. Extremely strict quarantine restrictions means I can’t leave, even though I’m currently on holiday. 

Once again this idea of being grounded is seen as bad.

Of course we desperately want to fly in life. It’s in our nature. But I question whether being physically grounded is the real problem. In fact, when we’re physically grounded in life, it’s our inability to stay mentally grounded – that’s the real problem. This is when we lose our footing. This is when we find ourselves off balance

When we desperately wish we could fly, even though we can’t.

But being grounded is a matter of safety. When an aircraft is AOG, it’s for very good reasons – whether that’s extreme weather conditions or a technical issue. We should wait for the right conditions. We should wait until we are at full strength before we attempt to get airborne. Otherwise, the results may be catastrophic. 

Keeping that perspective is important.

It also worth noting that an aircraft (or person) should always remain grounded, at least in some sense. Not only must we begin and end our journey on the ground, once airborne, it’s imperative that we retain contact with it. Especially when we fly over remote expanses, thousands of miles from home. Let me tell you, it’s a lonely place to be flying halfway across the Pacific. That connection is crucial. I need only mention the mystery surrounding MH370 to tell what losing contact with the ground can mean.

This is what I believe being grounded is really about: connection. It’s about being connected with your current reality, with those around you. It’s about being planted in the present. When we think of a person we describe as grounded this is what we think of. Someone who is level-headed and balanced, someone who understands what is important here and now. Grounded in this respect is undeniably a good thing. It prevents you from getting caught up in regret or worrying about the future.

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself in this life. We can relax well before we arrive at our destination. We can assume that the journey will go according to plan. We can switch off as a result. Equally, we can get hung up on past mistakes. We can let an error we made distract us from the task at hand. This usually leads to more mistakes. If we fail to put those mistakes behind us, we can quickly find ourselves in a hole.

We may also wish we were at our destination long before we’ve arrived. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tortured myself while working the graveyard shift, wishing for it to end so I could get some sleep. It’s a classic example of Buddha’s second arrow. The first arrow is the fact that I have to work through the night. This pain is unavoidable. The second arrow – wishing for something different. Desperately hoping I had arrived. That pain is entirely self-inflicted.

This is what I’ve been doing recently. I’ve been getting ahead of myself. Putting too much emphasis on my future plans at the expense of my present-day responsibilities. As a result of my relentless pursuits, I can feel myself stalling. And I know what that means. I need to point the nose down. I need to spend some time playing and being with my gorgeous family. Being grateful for everything I have today. For my perfectly imperfect life.

I need to regain my footing in the present. I need to find that secure base again before I attempt to climb higher. And so, ladies and gentlemen, that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a break. I’m gonna come back to earth for a while. Although I can’t physically fly anywhere, I fully intend to let go and enjoy this time off. I realise that being on holiday, like most things, is a mindset. I don’t need to travel halfway across the world. I just need to stay grounded in the present.

That really is the best way to fly anyway.

***

You can find AP2 at the following places and spaces:

Why I Write

The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life.

In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a hearing problem. They believed this stunted my development. Later they had me tested for dyslexia.

I’m not, of course. It just happened to be one of my weaknesses. And I just happened to be different. I’ve always been a daydreamer, a wanderer by nature.

Languages, the English language – spelling, grammar – has never come naturally to me. But that has never been the problem. The problem was I didn’t believe, and because I didn’t believe, I didn’t try. I internalised that belief and thought, “What’s the point?”

“I’m no good, so why bother?”

Unfortunately, that belief took root at a much deeper level than my English proficiency.

Problems really started in adolescence – at the age of 13 – when I was first offered drugs. I didn’t say yes because I was curious. I didn’t say yes because I thought it was cool. I didn’t say yes as a form of rebellion. I said yes because I was afraid.

I took drugs because I was too scared to say no.

So began some of the most challenging years of my life. At first, it was fun, but I soon felt trapped. At one point, I was smoking pot every single day. I suffered from intense bouts of anxiety that I hid from everyone. Depression soon followed. 

I sank deep into my shell.

I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I was too afraid to speak up. So I drowned silently. It came to a head when a friend of mine was caught in possession of my drugs.

I was made to make a choice that day. When the deputy headmaster sat us down in his office, he asked me if I had also been using. He said I can’t help you if you’re not honest.

I was so scared at that moment. I wanted to tell the truth, but I was afraid of the repercussions. The thought of breaking my parent’s hearts broke my own. Yet, I also feared what would happen if I didn’t tell the truth.

While fighting back the tears, I admitted the truth.

It proved to be one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I was suspended, but the deputy headmaster held true to his word. No permanent record was kept. He honoured my honesty by protecting my future. How different my life would look now had I lied.

Honesty hurts to begin with, but in the long run it will set you free.

During those years, I sat my GCSEs. I didn’t care about my grades. I didn’t care about what future I had. I simply wanted to escape the hell I found myself in. As a result, I didn’t put much effort in. 

My results came as a surprise.

I landed 4 A’s, 6 B’s and an E (in German). I was far more competent than I gave myself credit. English language and English literature were the biggest surprises. Had it not been for one teacher, in particular, my grades would have been very different.

She taught the class with the top peers in our age group. Except she did something a little different. She took several students who were really struggling from the lowest level and placed us in hers. She had me sit in the front row.

She was petrifying, which helped. I was made to apply myself. I remember she believed I had a voice. She pushed me to do a lot of public speaking – which also scared the bejesus out of me!

My coursework marks steadily improved over the two years she taught me. Still, my coursework barely averaged a C. This made the final results even more surprising. Following our final examinations, I ended up with B’s in English language and English literature. I must have aced those exams to achieve those grades.

They’re my proudest grades from secondary school.

What she proved was more important, even if it didn’t fully register until years later. She showed that if I chose to apply myself, I was more than capable. She planted the seeds of self-belief that would bear fruit many years later.

To my English teacher, wherever you are, thank you.

I didn’t pursue English for A levels. It wasn’t for me. I also lacked clarity. As a result, I took a random collection of subjects. Art (the one subject I truly loved), Biology, History, and Geography.

I dropped Art halfway through my A levels despite getting an A. I dropped it for the wrong reasons – because no one else took it seriously. It would be an entire decade before I started drawing again. 

Somewhere along the way, I forgot.

Doing something simply because you love it is enough. More than enough.

History was the subject I went on to take at University. I took it because my parents were adamant that I should go to University and get a degree. I took it out of preference, not because I truly loved it. The truth is I only enjoyed aspects of it.

I later realised that what I really enjoyed was applying lessons from what history has to teach us about living life. What I was really interested in was philosophy.

During University, I fell in love with a French lady. In the second year, she asked me to edit much of her coursework. She studied media and communications. I didn’t just edit her work; I rewrote large chunks of it.

I loved it. 

I found I had a knack for drawing conclusions. I loved finishing with the right words. I realised there was an art to it. Between her coursework and my own, these skills developed.

Then she broke my heart. I finished my degree and forgot about this.

After University, I was clear about one thing. One thing I had always been clear about. A deep longing in my heart to travel the world.

So I applied for a cadetship offered by the airline I now work for. For the airline my father used to work for. He was keen, provided I was serious about it. So he took me flying. I didn’t look back.

And so followed the last 12 years of my life. 

There was a big break where I didn’t write. Several years passed while learning to fly and traveling the world before I decided to pick up a pen again.

One of my hobbies is traveling through cuisine. Anthony Bourdain has long been a personal hero of mine. Inspired by him, I put together a blog documenting my travels. 

I enjoyed it for a while, but that passion started to wane as depression and anxiety took a firmer grip.

This came to a head during another pivotal moment of my life. I froze up while trying to land during my Junior First Officer training. The training captain had to take control and go around as a result.

That scarred me deeply.

Added to the list of depression and anxiety, I had PTSD to contend with too. I remember flying approaches for years afterwards where my heart would beat so hard, it felt like it was going to break through my chest.

So many times, I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw in the towel. Those demons screamed at me. “GET OUT! YOU CAN’T! YOU’RE A FRAUD! YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE!”

I kept going.

Part of me refused to give in. I was so sick of those voices. Overcoming and passing my Junior First Officer upgrade was something I felt I had to do. So, I worked harder than I ever have in my entire life.

My demons started to drive me.

9 months on from that day, I was upgraded to First Officer. It meant everything to me at the time. I thought that was it. I thought that would be enough to finally put those voices to bed.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t until the birth of my first child 3 years ago that I finally sought professional help. At a low moment, I broke down. Once again, my demons were screaming at me. Telling me I couldn’t parent. That my boy deserved better. The guilt overwhelmed me, and I cried and cried.

Afterward, I felt a deep peace I’d not known in years. I knew exactly what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called for help.

This time I was ready. 

The following 4 months of therapy were difficult, emotional, and liberating all at the same time, but I didn’t hold back. In doing so, I finally gained the clarity I needed. In seeing my demons in the light, they lost their power.

The fog of depression finally started to lift.

Shortly afterwards, the pandemic hit, and I was left grounded. I used the time to do something I’d not done since I dropped Art during my A levels.

I started drawing.

And because I was feeling particularly creative – BECAUSE THAT’S WHO I AM – I started writing again. I put together a children’s book. I went to a publisher who loved it. Last summer, I became a published author. 

How do you like them apples?

At the same time, I started blogging. This time I had a different motivation. I spoke from my core. It felt like a spark had ignited something inside. I felt possessed. My intuition kept telling me to keep going. It’s leading somewhere. I don’t where yet, but it is.

It has.

My writing has given me clarity about what I want to do next. I will be starting an online degree in psychology next year with a long-term view of changing careers. I also have an idea for a number of books I plan to write.

Once again, I hear my demons screaming. Telling me not to do it. That I can’t. That I’m making a big mistake.

There’s a difference this time. 

My relationship has changed. I know those voices will be with me till the day I die. It that doesn’t phase me anymore. Honestly, I smile. I realise I don’t want those voices to go away. You see, they’re a guide. A powerful one telling me which direction to go in. What obstacles I must take on.  

Those voices also remind me of all the pain and suffering I’ve gone through. They keep it close to my heart. That’s want I want. To use that to help others who are suffering as I have. To give meaning to my pain by helping others with theirs. 

And so, as I sit at another crossroads in my life – as I build towards my second career – I keep writing. This time I won’t ever stop. Even though it continues to scare me – every single time I hit that publish button. 

I see it now.

I now know why it has to be this way. I was meant to write my way out. It’s poetry in motion.

You see the seeds of doubt that were planted at such a young age. The demons that have plagued me my whole life. They all stemmed from a lack of faith in my ability to overcome one of my biggest weaknesses.

That’s why I write.

For the boy inside who was lead to doubt himself. Who was told he couldn’t. Who was told he would struggle.

I write for every child who suffered under the weight of their fears, for everyone whose fears have been used against them in the cruelest possible way.

I write because I can. I write because I know that you can too.

I write to call myself a writer and be called a writer, because that means more to me than words could ever convey. 

The question I have is, why do you? 

Finding Life Balance Using the Four Forces of Flight

Do you feel like the weight of responsibility is keeping you grounded? Or the sheer drag of life is forcing on the brakes?

Do you find it hard to muster the requisite lift and thrust to overcome these forces in life?

Of course, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those days where everything has felt like one big drag, where the simple act of getting out of bed has felt like this herculean task.

To be honest, that’s how I’ve been feeling recently. It got me thinking about this idea of life balance and how, exactly, one is supposed to find it?

Then something struck me. I thought, “Of course! Balance isn’t something you find. It is something you have to maintain – like a tightrope walker!”

Three ideas immediately sprung to mind:

  1. Don’t carry too much weight.
  2. Go at a steady pace.
  3. Don’t stop moving.

Then, as soon as I wrote these thoughts down, I had another brain wave.

It occurred to me that the same laws govern an aeroplane in flight. Then it occurred to me that the laws of aerodynamics might be able to teach us how to maintain balance in our own lives. 

So I came up with this post.

Anyway dear readers, please sit back and relax with your seat belts securely fasten, because I’m about to teach you how to fly…

The Four Forces of Flight

To give you a quick lesson in aerodynamicsthe four forces of flight are thrust, lift, drag, and weight. 

When you throw a paper aeroplane you give it thrust. On a conventional aeroplane thrust is generated by a propeller or jet engine that pulls air in and pushes it out in the opposite direction. 

The forward motion of the aeroplane causes air to pass over the wings. Because of the camber of the wing, this creates a pressure differential that sucks the wings upward. This force – namely lift – is what holds an aeroplane in the air. 

Counter to these forces are drag and weight. 

Drag is the resistance the aeroplane meets as it flies through the air. Weight is the force caused by gravity that pulls the aeroplane toward the earth. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight. 

Now, if lift and thrust are greater than weight and drag, your aeroplane will climb. If they are less, it will descend. If they are balanced, your aeroplane will remain in level flight. 

Here’s an awesome diagram:

The Four Forces of Living

To rename the four forces of flight, we can say that the four forces of living are Health, Purpose, Life & Responsibility. 

Just like an aeroplane, these forces counteract one another. Health (Thrust) counteracts Life (Drag), whereas Purpose (Lift) counteracts Responsibility (Weight).

Instead of an aeroplane, of course, it’s you that’s stuck in the middle.

Here’s another awesome diagram:

Now, we can say that we’re out of balance when the forces of life and responsibility are much greater than the other two.

This usually happens for one of two reasons.

The first comes from trying to avoid drag and weight altogether, preventing you from getting airborne in the first place (or out of bed). At the other end of the balance scales are those who carry far more than they’re capable of, causing them to stall.

From experience, I believe the latter is a far better place to be. The way I see it, having too much on your plate is a good thing. It means your life is already filled with purpose and meaning. 

That’s half the battle. 

Once you’re off the ground (which is the hardest part) balance becomes a question of priorities. Understanding exactly what we should pay attention to and what we should let go of.

With that in mind, let’s tackle these issues from the ground up by looking at what it takes to get airborne in the first place. 

Thrust vs Drag

Life is drag. 

Getting out of bed in the morning is drag. Making your breakfast, brushing your teeth, taking your dog for a walk, Donald Trump… all of these things are drag. 

What I mean is, anything and everything you do will always involve a certain amount of energy to overcome. It is unavoidable. No matter how streamlined your aeroplane is, you will always encounter resistance.  

The problem with attempts to avoid drag is it makes us weaker. Of course, this makes everything much harder. We need to test ourselves – to actively meet the resistance of life – to gain strength from it. 

Just like lifting weights in the gym causes us to gain muscle mass. By meeting the resistance of life, we gain strength from it. As we gain strength, over time, we’re able to climb higher. The higher we climb in life, the less resistance there is, the easier it becomes.

Badda bing badda boom.

So, how do we meet the resistance of life? 

We meet the resistance of life by targeting the very thing that creates the most drag: your health. 

The better your health is, the more energy you will have, the greater your ability to face and overcome life’s obstacles. 

Thrust is more critical than lift. 

Theoretically, with enough thrust, you can climb without generating any lift – like a rocketship. It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. That isn’t true of lift. Lift needs thrust to get off the ground. That’s why, as everyone likes to say, there is nothing more important than your health. 

Health is thrust. 

This is where we must start if we want to maintain balance.

How to Increase Thrust

The four pillars of health are rest (sleep), fuel (diet), movement (exercise) and mental health.

Let me break each of those down for you.

  1. Prioritise your sleep. 

The most productive thing you can do is prioritise your sleep and then build your life around it. Here are a few top tips from yours truly.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Have a proper evening routine to help you wind down in the evening and a kick-ass morning routine to get you pumped after you wake up. 

Other things worth considering include limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption. Also, limiting blue light exposure in the evenings and increasing it in the mornings. (Hello sunlight!) 

For more about sleep, I can highly recommend checking out this site: thesleepdoctor.com.

A book I can also highly recommend is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

  1. Change your diet.

The food you eat is the fuel you put into your aeroplane. If you feed it garbage, you’re going to get shit performance. A balanced diet is so essential for generating thrust. 

Of course, I could prattle on about getting your five a day, but I don’t want to bore you. I can, however, recommend you take a look at Dr. Mark Hyman’s blog

His book, What The Heck Should I Eat, is worth your time.

  1. Get regular exercise.

An aeroplane needs to fly the same way a car needs to be driven. If you leave your car in the garage for too long, it’s going to create problems. We are designed to move. I suggest a mixture of weight lifting, core exercises, cardio, and yoga. 

Of course, if you hate going to the gym, then don’t. Find something you enjoy. I love to swim and play tennis. I also love to go for long walks in my local park. I find few things calm my mind as well. 

The most important thing is that you make exercise a habit.

If you really find yourself struggling for motivation, consider following along to an online exercise video from the comfort of your living room floor. 

You can find tons of free workout videos here at: fitnessblender.com

  1. Look after your mental health. 

All of the above are intrinsically linked to your mental health; however, there are other tools worth implementing. 

The main forms of personal therapy I use are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I also earmark a half-hour to talk to my wife about any concerns or feelings I have every evening without fail

Having someone you can talk to who you can trust when shit gets serious is SO DAMN IMPORTANT. 

Moving on. 

Lift vs Weight

Responsibility is weight.

You cannot avoid it. You didn’t ask for this life, but here you are anyway. Now you have a fundamental responsibility to love, honour, and protect that one life. 

So many struggle against their responsibilities – desperately wishing they didn’t have to deal with them. Yet, our responsibilities indirectly generate lift. The same way an aeroplane takes cargo and passengers onboard. That “weight” pays for the fuel which generates thrust and then, consequently, lift. 

Now, you might think the fewer responsibilities you have, the lighter you will feel, the more able you’ll be to climb. To a certain extent, this is true. We need to be careful about how many responsibilities we choose to take on – depending on our capacity – for that reason. 

It’s important to stress that if you make all of the world’s problems your own, you’ll never take off. 

However, an absence of responsibility isn’t freedom. An absence of responsibility isn’t anything. It’s like an absence of weight. There’s no aeroplane in the first place. To avoid responsibility is to avoid life itself. To try to live in its absence will leave you feeling void. 

The major difference between responsibility and purpose is perspective. You will always have responsibilities. Understanding how they serve your greater purpose helps you find the motivation to take them on. This is what turns your responsibilities into a source of lift.

Of course, purpose is the thing that gets you up and moving in the morning. It’s the things in your life that give you both joy and hope. 

Purpose is lift.

How to Generate Lift

  1. Remain Grounded

Wherever you are in life, it’s essential to remain grounded. The only place we live is here and now. To constantly wish you had arrived at your destination is to miss the part we call life – that would be a far greater tragedy than not making your destination. That’s why, as a mantra for life, one should always start with radical acceptance.

I like to think of radical acceptance in terms of three pillars:

  • The first is present moment awareness. 
  • The second is universal compassion. 
  • The third is gratitude. 

Meditation is an excellent tool for all of the above. I also use several mindful hacks throughout the day to keep my monkey mind from getting lost in the clouds. Writing in a gratitude journal is another habit that’s worth implementing. 

Without harping on for too long, I can highly recommend the following book: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

  1. Build a Moral Compass

This is something you should prioritise long before you start setting goals. I suggest you design your own moral compass by listing out a set of values that mean the most to you and then listing those in order of personal significance. 

I then suggest you think about the identity you want to form based on your set of particular values. Following that, you want to build habits that reinforce this identity. (i.e., a loving father and husband who makes time for his family every day, a person who prioritises his own health by meditating and exercising every day, a person who writes every day).

(For all things habit related, I suggest reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. You can find his blog here.)

Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking more about the destination by setting some short and long-term goals. Just keep in mind that it’s far more important to embody the person you wish to be today than it is to achieve anything in the long run. 

After all, shit happens, and rarely if ever, in this life, we end up at the destination we had in mind.

  1. Change Your Perspective

Turn your demons into angels by giving meaning to your pain. 

If your battle is with mental health, then make that part of your purpose in your life. If you have suffered a major affliction, draw on that pain to help others who have suffered/are suffering similarly. I believe this is one of the most powerful ways to generate lift in life. You can apply this idea to almost all areas of your life.

Take having children as an example. They are a significant source of lift in my life, but they are also a considerable weight. I can either look at them as a weight or actively choose to take them on board – to make it my mission to help raise a generation of resilient, responsible, and virtuous children. 

Need I say anymore?

  1. Remove Unnecessary Baggage

Many of us carry baggage we really shouldn’t. Usually, that baggage is other people’s bullshit that has found its way into our minds. Once again, becoming clear about your values will help here. Know what is truly important to you and then not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.

This is no easy battle, of course, but a great place to start is by getting a handle on your smartphone addiction. Disconnect and have a digital sabbath one day a week. This should help you gain some much-needed clarity.

I also recommend living a simple life. Be happier with less. Spend the money on a few high-quality products/hobbies that give you a considerable amount of joy instead of mindlessly consuming things you don’t need because it’s a “good deal.” 

This applies to people too. Form close relationships instead of lots of superficial ones. Find the people you love and trust. Cut out the toxic individuals that aren’t serving you.

  1. Make time for the things and people you love. 

Doing the things you have to do but don’t want to makes you feel less guilty about doing what you love. To turn that on its head, doing what you love gives you the energy to do the things you have to but don’t want to.

As part of harmonious life, you must make time for the things you love. Whether that’s reading, playing video games, or socialising… Don’t neglect fun. Don’t neglect joy. Don’t neglect being silly and spontaneous. Don’t neglect your sense of adventure. Try new restaurants, dance in the rain, fart and laugh about it.

Occasionally say fuck it to all of the above and just go with the flow.

You definitely need that.

Maintaining Straight and Level

Your day-to-day journey, just like life itself, should follow a similar pattern. At first, you should apply more thrust to overcome the forces of drag and weight. You should reduce the thrust and glide gently back to earth towards the end of the day.

As for maintaining straight and level flight, the rest of the time, I don’t believe it should feel like this almighty struggle – like everything has a threat level response attached to it. 

When you encounter turbulence, you shouldn’t fight it. You should take a seat, ride it out, and then gently fly your bird back to your desired track and level. 

If you really do feel like you’re stalling, there is only one thing for it. You must push the nose down to regain lift. Don’t, whatever you do, keep pitching up in desperation. Heed the warning signs and let go of the controls. 

The truth is maintaining balance is a state of mind. One that is firmly grounded in the present moment. It is about going with the flow and dissolving the boundaries that separate work from play, life from death, purpose from responsibility…

It’s important to have a destination in mind, but it’s equally important we don’t get hung up on it. As cliche as it is to say, life is about the journey, not the destination. 

Take care of yourself today. Tackle your most pressing responsibilities today. Get rid of any unnecessary baggage. After that, learn to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.

If you can, then you really will fly free. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following: 

https://pointlessoverthinking.com

https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Also on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot


The Pursuit Of Unhappiness

Apparently, most of us have a default level of happiness. No matter what our station is in life, we are all slightly dissatisfied. Slightly. Life is just never quite good enough, even when it really is.

This default happiness level readjusts depending on your circumstances. Even if something significant happens to you, like winning the lottery, you soon get over it and return to that base level of slight dissatisfaction.

Luckily this works in reverse too!

If you have a divorce, for example, or end up in an accident that leaves you paralysed — studies have shown that although your life on paper becomes worse, you readjust. Shit feels awful for a while, but then get used to this new normal. You accept it — sort of — and move back to your default level of happiness.

“I can’t use my legs anymore, but I can still binge-watch NETFLIX every evening like I used to!” Or, “I don’t have a smoking hot wife anymore but, you know, there are other less attractive fish in the sea. Ones that won’t steal my stuff. I’ll settle for one of those!”

That’s the spirit!

The reason for this is simple: survival.

It’s not the best strategy to be content with life. Otherwise, we’d stop chasing after that next promotion or that bigger house. We’d stop securing a safer existence for ourselves and our family — even if we already live on a luxury yacht!

It’s for this reason that our egos keep tricking us. It tells us, if you get that next promotion, or have sex with that smoking hot chick, or save enough money for that fast car, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll achieve the kind of bliss that everyone else on Instagram clearly has.

And so you go after those things like your life depends on it.

But what happens when you actually get those things? When your hopes are realised? Of course, you’re happy for a time. That’s for the memory bank to remind you that more is better. But then what? That’s right, you get used to it! You get accustomed to your new sports car. You get over the fact that you had mind-blowing sex with that hot chick. You get used to the fact that your new house has 8 bedrooms, 2 tennis courts, and an infinity pool.

Once you do, you’ll find yourself back in that familiar default setting of life is okay-ish. Not bad, but it could be better. “I mean, It’s not like I have the fastest sports car in the market, right? And if I’m honest, she was only an 8 out of 10. Plus, I’d quite like a bigger fucking boat!”

The obvious problem, for those canny enough to recognise this ego trick, is that it’s never enough. 

Happiness — the lasting kind at least — can’t be found through the pursuit of happiness. It’s like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll never find it. There is no mountain high enough, no river wide enough, no luxury yacht big enough.

The other, less obvious problem, for those canny enough to see the bigger trap here, is your default setting has been adjusted to this more manageable level of existence. And this, I’m afraid to say, makes you weaker. It makes you softer because your default level of happiness is set against this higher standard of living. As a result, minor things start to bother you a lot more. You say, “Unless that waiter brings me the finest quality champagne, I’m gonna lose my shit!” Suddenly it becomes much harder to maintain that baseline of moderate happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be).

In gaining the world, you start to hate it.

As a pilot, I have the added perk of traveling in business class at a fraction of the price that most people pay, provided spare seats are going on a given flight. Is it a great thing? I enjoy business class, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think about it much anymore. That’s because I’m used to it. Instead, I find myself thinking about how great first class looks. I think, “If only my company would let me fly in first. Of course, business class isn’t bad, but, you know, it could be better.”

There I am, back to that default setting. (Spoilt brat, I know…)

But here’s the real kicker. When business is full and the only seats going are in economy class, well, then woe is fucking me! (Please don’t fuck me woe, not again!) What is normal and ok-ish for the vast majority of people has become a kind of hell because of my privilege. My privilege has made me weaker. It’s like that saying, once you go… (You know what? I’m not going to finish that sentence.)

This is the paradox that comes from making life easier for ourselves. We actually make it harder. Similarly, by chasing happiness, we end up finding less of it.

Now I’m going to ask you a question. I use this example only because it makes sense to me personally. Here it is: Why did you have kids? Why do you want to have kids?

To make you happy?

Ha!

Sorry, that one slipped out. But seriously, if your reason is/was to make you happy, you need to sit down and have a rethink.

Kids make everything more complicated. Everything.

There’s a lot of research that suggests couples end up unhappier after having kids. I can vouch for that. Having kids was a rude awakening. It was a shock to my admittedly delicate system. And it didn’t make me happier having them. At least not initially. (There’s a fat dose of honesty for you.)

Changing nappies 8 times a day, being pissed on, rocking them for a goddam hour at 4 am, only for them to wake up the moment you place them in their cots…! Finding any which way to settle the little bastards. (I love them, really.)

If you haven’t felt an overwhelming urge to throw your baby out of the window at some point as a new parent, well, you’re not honest. That’s why, if you want to have kids, you have to really really want them. You also have to be very clear about why you have children.

Because if your why is in the pursuit of happiness, they will make you miserable — they will drive you insane. Then you might actually throw your children out the window. Of course, that would be bad. Very very bad. (I have to keep telling myself that.)

So why would you have kids then?

Well, the same reason you might decide to climb Everest or chose any challenging endeavor. For a sense of fulfillment, to help the world raise a more virtuous and responsible generation, to help you grow as an individual…

You have children because it gives your life more meaning. You do it for love, as cliche as that sounds. You don’t do it for your happiness. Don’t do anything for your happiness. Fuck your happiness. I mean it. 

Ok, no, I don’t. What I mean is fuck looking for your happiness. The only thing that’s guaranteed in this life is pain. Happiness is never guaranteed. Never. You should write that on a billboard and hang it on your living room wall.

My first child forced me to reconcile with some dark inner demons. The moment I was candid with myself and realised that his wellbeing depended on me sorting my own shit, well, everything changed. Seriously. Everything. I sought therapy for his benefit. I did it for his happiness, and in the process, ended up finding my own.

Right there is the trick. What’s your why? That’s always a great question to ask yourself. If your why is happiness, you can expect unhappiness. If your why is to serve something bigger than yourself, well, then you’re actually on to something. Because the genuine pursuit of happiness is found in the pursuit of meaning through pain.

If you pursue meaning through pain, you’ll find the small stuff stops pissing you off. You’ll also find the everyday stuff that everyone takes for granted becomes a kind of paradise.

Suddenly you’ll look down after a long day in which your kids pressed every button — a day in which your nerves were utterly shredded. Despite that, you kept them alive. Not only that, you helped them grow. You also realise that you didn’t completely lose your shit this time. You notice that you also grew as a person. You realise that all that pain you suffered through gave you something no amount of money ever can. And as you look down at your kids, who are fast asleep, in a seemingly mundane moment, you suddenly feel something akin to happiness, but it’s not. It’s something more significant than that.

What you’ve found is peace.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here athttps://pointlessoverthinking.com